Observations on the May 10 Council Meeting
Two items this evening occasioned the kind of debate which is needed by a democracy. Such discussion clarifies issues and can lead to needed changes in policy and practice.
Staff Report item (o) involved a staff recommendation: “That Council support the re-allocation of $154,000 of UBCM Community Tourism Grant Funding to the purchase of the LED screen score clock for the Nanaimo Aquatic Centre.” The crux of the discussion was the extent to which grants received for one purpose can be used for another. As discussion proceeded, it appeared that the wording of the recommendation was faulty in that what was really being asked was permission to ask the UBCM whether this reallocation, which staff supports, was agreeable to them. It was also pointed out that the $154,000 was awarded to fund a study which was produced in-house. It was also pointed out that, as the $154,000 for the sign was already in the ordinary budget, a yes from the UBCM would make that money available for other purposes, though what these might be was not mentioned.
This item raises issues of how public funds flow and questions about the imputed legitimacy of a) the city applying for funds which are redundant and can be turned to other purposes and b) the legitimacy of the UBCM in giving out grants from public money which are superfluous to need. I suppose that we should be grateful for every dime we get from some other level of government, but aren’t all these levels plucking the same turkeys?
Staff Report item (n) is even more problematic and involves the award of a contract for about $5 million dollars over a period of five years to a company for waterworks supplies. This item has been the subject of a number of Council and FPCOW meetings in last few weeks. Two unsuccessful bidders have raised a number of questions about the bidding substance and process with regard to such questions as: the length of the contract which up until now has been open for bids annually (if any of these folks can see ahead five years, please notify my broker) ; about the fact that the winner is not a local Nanaimo business; about procedures in the bidding process which may have led to the mis-allocation of points in scoring the bids, etc. Staff reported that the city was estimated to save about $390,000 by the selection of the winning supplier over the five years of the project. I hesitate to comment on the reliability of this estimate without having more detail, but what I heard led me to have a number of questions about the figure. Given this situation where the results of the bidding exercise were known before coming to Council, they wisely requested an opinion from the city’s solicitors as to whether jeopardy could attach to the city if the current bids were all rejected in favour of a new bidding process. The opinion apparently came back that this might be the case. Council voted to proceed to approve the staff recommendation though, as one Councillor put it, noses had to be held.
But what I would like to know is this: What was the question put to the lawyers? Was it determined whether information released by those unauthorized to make promises on behalf of the city could put the City in legal jeopardy? Our bylaws state that any contract costing more than $250,000 must be approved by Council. This was obviously not done in this case (at least until tonight). What is our lawyers’ opinion about this situation? How could it be that jeopardy attached to information emanating from an unauthorized source? Councillor Sherry raised this point near the end of the debate when all seemed anxious to vote and get it over with. But this may have been the most critical question of all.